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Teens shine positive light on disabilities for Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in every 700 babies born in the United States has Down Syndrome.

Down Syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome.

“They are very loving people, they are generally really happy and easygoing and they have the ability to do many things,” Sandy Crawfod VP of Pediatrics at Capper Foundation said. “We just have to give them as many skills and the support they need, so that they can do those things.”

The Capper Foundation is a non-profit in Topeka that works closely with adults and children with disabilities and their families, offering a variety of services.

Tara Duffey, a 14-year-old Topeka girl with Down Syndrome, has been going to Capper for the last 4-5 years for speech therapy. She is also involved in their ICan Bike program each year.

Her mother, Shelley Duffey said, “I worried as a parent that Tara would never be able to ride a bike, but thanks to Cappers, she just pedals up and down our street and it’s that feeling of independence she has just like her brothers.”

Shelley said her daughter does not even realize she has a disability because she has never let it define her.

“She is a typical kid,” Shelley continued saying, “She gets to come to school, she walks to and from her classes, she socializes with her peers, she sits with her best friends at lunch.”

The best friends she’s known for the last 6-8 years, and who have always seen past her disability.

“She’s just always so positive and fun to be around and she’s nice to everybody,” said Laina, Tara’s friend since the third grade.

Claire, who met Tara in Kindergarten said, “You don’t have to pretend that you’re someone else you can just be yourself, she doesn’t care.”

Cameron Allen is another teen who benefits from Capper’s services.

The 19-year-old from Meriden was born with Down Syndrome, but his mother, Julie Allen, said they did not know until he was six months old.

Every week they make the drive to Topeka to work on Cameron’s communication skills. Something Crawford said is common for clients with Down Syndrome.

”Our speech therapists work a lot on improving their articulation, as well as just their expressive speech and receptive speech, so understanding what people are saying to them,” said Crawford. “We work hard on setting goals that we know the child can achieve and working on all those little steps to help them get there.”

Julie Allen said being a mother of a child with Down Syndrome is not always an easy journey, but she said it has taught their family a lot.

“It’s like the best of the highs and sometimes there’s lows, but it’s an adventure that we’re blessed to be on,” she added.

Lessons Tara’s family have learned as well.

“For us, it has been such a blessing,” Shelley continued saying, “She has brought so much joy and laughter into our family and has really opened our eyes to a whole new world.”

Each one of them proving an extra chromosome is just that, and societal change can come through awareness.

”My goal is if you get a diagnosis that your baby is going to have down syndrome, it’s not a termination,” Julie added, “These are the coolest kids ever. Anybody that they touch, their life is just better.“

”Down syndrome is just a diagnosis,” Shelley said, “Don’t let those two words define who that person is. You’ve got to get to know that person and understand that person, and you’ll see they’re as special as you and I are.”

Through their work at Capper Foundation, Crawford said the organization hopes to continue the conversation.

“The more you’re around someone with a disability, the more relaxed you’re going to be, the more that you see they’re just like you,” she added, “They want friends, they’ve got dogs, they want to enjoy life and that’s what we help people do.”

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month where people in the community celebrate, not the disability, but all that people with the condition are capable of.

This month you are encouraged to volunteer or donate to a local advocacy group.

Below are a few in Northeast Kansas:

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